Friday, March 13, 2009

Speak directly into the MIAC, please

Observation #1: Saying "most NBA starting point guards are tall people" is not the same as saying "all tall people are NBA starting point guards."

Observation #2: Throwing around hysterical untruths about a bad thing doesn't make the bad thing look worse, it makes the people throwing around the hysterical untruths look worse.

With those two observations in mind, let's discuss the "Missouri Information Analysis Center", what it is, what it does, and why it sucks.

MIAC describes itself as:

a public safety partnership consisting of local, state and federal agencies, as well as the public sector and private entities that will collect, evaluate, analyze, and disseminate information and intelligence to the agencies tasked with Homeland Security responsibilities in a timely, effective, and secure manner.

(Note: That's from their "about" page. I'm not linking directly because their site throws up a bunch of weirdness in the URL that might be related to session tracking. If you're paranoid -- and I don't blame you if you are -- you might want to visit the site through a proxy.)

Translation of MIAC's mandate into English:

There was a bunch of "Homeland Security" money blowing around a few years ago, and Missouri's politicians wanted a cut of it. So, they created a makework bureaucracy with a "Homeland Security" angle and employed a bunch of bureaucrats (and perhaps some cops that even the MSHP didn't really care to risk putting on the streets with cars, firearms and !authoritah!) to churn out "intelligence reports" using the same methodology your third-grader employs to generate class papers on dinosaurs, aliens and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers [TM], i.e. trolling the Intarweb looking for cool stuff that sounds really important.

That's the mandate. The manifestation of the mandate takes two main forms:

- Providing photo opportunities for politicians; and

- Churning out the aforementioned third-grade class papers frequently and furiously enough to justify periodic renewal of their funding.

The problem with the second manifestation, of course, is that occasionally -- probably very occasionally -- someone actually reads one of those papers. Probably not the people who are supposed to (most cops, good or bad, have better things to do than sit around reading bureaucrat porn), but people.

This time, one of those papers mentioned two demographics. Both of those demographics have high overlap with the audience of a C-List radio shock jock who just happens to be releasing a new movie this weekend and really, really, really wants to get his name in front of those demographics as much as possible right now. And the tinfoil hat talker in question, one Alex Jones, happened to get a copy of the current third grade class paper.

Not content to go with the damning truth about the paper, our intrepid conspiracy theorist decided to spice it up a bit. Scratch that: He decided to lie like a rug about what the paper said.

Unsurprisingly, many in his gullible audience slurped up the lies like so much coffee, then sprayed them around like the coffee drinker who suddenly realizes he's accidentally picked up his tobacco-chewing co-worker's spit cup instead of his own mocha latte. Equally unsurprisingly, this happened in spite of the fact that Jones included scanned images of the MIAC "what I did on my summer vacation" piece, making it a matter of a few minutes' reading to discern that it said one thing while Jones said it said something completely different. Hint: There's a reason you never hear Alex Jones listeners cited as exemplars of keen analytical skills.

Here's what Jones says about the report:

The MIAC report specifically describes supporters of presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr as “militia” influenced terrorists and instructs the Missouri police to be on the lookout for supporters displaying bumper stickers and other paraphernalia associated with the Constitutional, Campaign for Liberty, and Libertarian parties.

Here's what the report actually says:

It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign For Liberty, or Libertarian material. These members are usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr.

Which, in point of fact, is likely true -- militia bubbas wouldn't be militia bubbas if they were happy with the status quo (see Observation #1 above if you don't immediately understand the reversal Jones is trying to pull here, though -- while the reverse could be true, the yank-jobs at MIAC didn't say that).

Oh, and the report includes no "instructions" for Missouri police at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.

Apparently when Alex Jones lies, cogitation dies, at least in certain people.

Unfortunately, several libertarian writers who should know better have also picked up the Alex Jones Football of Untruth and tried to run it down the field. Jim Davidson and Steve Newton, to name two.

Even more disturbing, some Missouri Libertarian Party officials are biting at the same wormy hook and wringing their hands about "profiling" concerns and such -- not because of what the paper says, but because of what they seem to have convinced themselves it says.

(See Observation #2 above for relevance)

Yes, the MIAC "report" is a poorly written, factually challenged piece of bureaucratic legerdemain -- your tax dollars at work, folks.

Yes, the Davidson and Newton pieces demonstrate that it is possible -- even for people who aren't stump-stupid, under the immediate influence of a bad batch of blotter, or caught in the Alex Jones Sheeple-Manipulation Beam[TM]'s line of fire -- to fall into some sort of weird paranoid dyslexia when reading MIAC-style material.

I suppose it's even possible that the MIAC paper is potentially dangerous. Some cop might be bored enough to pull it up, print it out and read it during a donut break, might be gullible enough to read things into it that aren't there (as non-cops already have), and might be stupid enough to not react rationally to that misreading (the rational reaction is "well, guess who won't be pulling over the speeders with Ron Paul stickers -- this job ain't worth a heightened risk of taking an AK-47 round for 60 in a 55").

But why lie (even to ourselves) about what the thing says, and why extrapolate the least likely plausible outcomes from those lies? There's plenty of real stuff to go after here, starting with "why the hell are the taxpayers paying these MIAC jokers a salary to surf the web and try to pass off their Tom Clancy fantasies as 'intelligence?'"

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